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Mayor’s waffling could kill diversity committee

Minorities consider setting up independent watchdog

WATCHDOGS BARKING AT MAYOR. With O'Brien openly musing about the future of the advisory committees, several organizations have banded together to form a parallel, but not city-run, watchdog group. Credit: (Pat Croteau)

Concerns are mounting over the future of the Equity And Diversity Advisory Committee (EDAC) at the City Of Ottawa.

Mayor Larry O’Brien has mused publicly about scrapping the committee entirely, and on Jun 20, individuals representing a variety of organizations that share interests with EDAC met to discuss the consequences of ending a committee tasked with the elimination of discrimination in Ottawa.

Nicole Soucy, the Francophone community representative for City For All Women Initiative (CAWI) attended the Jun 20 meeting and, while she did not outright predict the demise of EDAC, she saw the meeting as an opportunity to discuss how these groups could continue to work together if the committee ceased to exist.

“The reason we got together last week, was basically more to find out what is each other’s needs and how can we work together instead of fighting against each other. Deep down all the diversity issues have common grounds,” Soucy says.

Kevin Hatt, of the AIDS Committee Of Ottawa was also in attendance on Jun 20.

“I believe the mayor would like to disband the equity and diversity committee … I think it would be a loss. The city is not a homogenous population,” says Hatt.

According to Soucy, suspicions were piqued following a series of closed-door strategic planning sessions held by the Mayor in early May at the Pineview Golf Course.

“I think the catalyst [for the recent meeting] would have to be all these discussions on the structure of government. Basically what the municipality was doing was kind of being secretive to a certain extent. First [the meeting at Pineview] was going to be closed to the public, but then they said, ‘okay we’re going to have it open but you can’t say anything’,” says Soucy.

The discussions held at Pineview are expected will be drafted into a report to be released on Jul 9, but Soucy sn’t waiting for its release. CAWI released a Peach Paper outlining its concerns with the municipal government, citing a lack of public input in the decision making process. The meeting on Jun 20 also presented an opportunity for groups to discuss concerns prior to the release of the city’s report.

“There’s going to be a report asking for public consultation. Since we knew the document was going to come out we decided to get together. It was more of an idea, [that] we should get people from EDAC, maybe we should talk to all these other minority groups, [and then] should we rally together,” says Soucy.

Hatt believes the end of EDAC would result in the silencing of a significant portion of Ottawa’s population.

“It would be one thing if they were disbanded, and something else was put in place, but to date there’s been no comment, as far as I know, of something else being put in place.”

For the individuals and organizations that are moving forward in the hopes of cooperation with or without the city’s advisory committee, the next step is to acquire as much information as possible.

“For the next get-together we’re going to be reading the report that’s going to be coming out to see what kind of strategy we’re going to come up with. We can’t decide on any position until we see the report. Right now it’s more that we need to pay attention and see what comes out. We shouldn’t sleeping behind the wheel,” says Soucy.